This issue looks at the economic and social crises that beset Iran more than 15 years after the Islamic Revolution. While the articles presented here share a critical perspective toward the present government, the authors allow us to see aspects of a society that both endures and challenges the inept, contradictory and impoverishing policies of the state. As was the case on the eve of the anti-Shah revolution, the most salient issues are corruption, legitimacy and competence.
US policy is almost irrelevant background noise. These articles make clear that the responsibility for the deplorable conditions facing Iranian society lies squarely with those wielding power in Iran. In their candid detail, though, the articles here stand in contrast to the extraordinarily willful ignorance in the West about the conditions of Iranian society. This ignorance reciprocates that of Iranian propaganda, and is required, it seems, by the strident adversarial stance that the two governments have taken against one another.
US officials rattle off a list of unconvincing particulars to justify ostracizing Iran as a “rogue state.” Asked for evidence supporting the charge of “international terrorism,” officials cite “confidential” intelligence. Iran’s arms acquisitions hardly rank with those of its US-supplied neighbors on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf. On-site inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, using leads supplied by the CIA, have found no evidence for the charge that Iran is on the way to manufacturing nuclear weapons. We are left with Iranian opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian accord — as if that were a crime — and Tehran’s human rights record — atrocious to be sure, but not worse than that of Iraq when it was Washington’s ally. The infamous death sentence against Salman Rushdie indeed warrants the strongest condemnation, but not even a child would believe that this one artist’s plight has mobilized the animus of the American state.
The Israeli government and its partisans in the US have been loud in proclaiming Iran and “Islamic fundamentalism” as the major strategic threat to Western and Israeli interests in the region. The provenance of the Clinton administration’s “dual containment” thesis bespeaks a concern thoroughly to mesh Israeli and US “threat analysis.” And the same line trips easily off the tongues of Arab leaders seeking an Iranian scapegoat for their own failed policies of repression.
This is a message Washington finds congenial for its purposes. The continued deployment of major US military force — even prior to October’s buildup — and arms sales of $3.5 to $4 billion each year to Saudi Arabia require such a threat. US policy is to ensure that this oil-laden region remains, in effect, neither Persian nor Arab but an American Gulf. One means to this end is a dynamic of polarization that can perpetuate “national security” regimes throughout the region. Even if this month’s target is Baghdad, no government in Tehran, “Islamic” or otherwise, can ignore such a blatant challenge to Iranian interests. It is a recipe not for stability but for enduring conflict.